Academic journal article Capital & Class

Gareth Dale: Reconstructing Karl Polanyi: Excavation and Critique

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Gareth Dale: Reconstructing Karl Polanyi: Excavation and Critique

Article excerpt

Gareth Dale

Reconstructing Karl Polanyi: Excavation and Critique. London, Pluto Press, 2016; 256 pp.: ISBN 0745335187, 19.99 [pounds sterling]

The economy is having increasingly problematic effects in the present age of anti-migrant, global politics. Fascist groups are responding to these economic developments in their politics of othering. The state is withering due to the recalcitrant onslaught of capitalism. It is in this context that we should appreciate Gareth Dale for providing this insightful reading of the intellectual journey of Karl Polanyi. Polanyi is routinely referred to in both academic work and popular culture, especially his analysis of the economy. Indeed, the book needs to be understood as part of this era of proliferated mass media(ated) constructions of the economy throughout the world. This book is a critically minded approach to Polanyi's complex theoretical world and arrives at an open-ended conceptualisation within the grand rubric of political economy. It transcends the reductionist approaches that emerged after the autobiographical turn. On the other hand, it can be counted as a riveting history of Polanyi's ideas. Dale maps the diverse and contradictory stakes of Polanyi, regarding the economy and society. The advent of this book happens in a critical juncture, where sociology is caught between cultural studies and its obsession with the limited understanding of a socially regulated economy. At the same time, sociologists are engaged in the new forms of reading related to class and economic exploitation; in the fashionable era of the linguistic turn. Leftist pluralism is also being projected as a counter view to the bloody flow of capitalism. Social movements have a tendency to distance themselves from earlier forms of classical theory. However, one striking and objective part of Dale's approach is that Polanyi's paradoxical intellectual positions are depicted in an original fashion. For instance, Polanyi's critique of dominant Marxist and sociological frameworks is discussed in a cogent fashion. At the same time, Dale succinctly draws Polanyi's soft leaning towards a hardcore, Stalinist line.

Polanyi's intellectual departure from both the capitalist west and the Soviet east is also discussed as one of the striking facets of his intellectual path. This idea of the book oscillates between the return to Polanyi's scholastic path and the current upsurge in academic interest in Polanyi's works across the globe. Debates on Polanyi's works are often neutralised in a depoliticised and career-oriented world of academic capitalism. As Pierre Bourdieu argued, certain privileged ideas are being circulated across the academic spaces in a pre-determined fashion. Marx has already discussed dominant ideas as the ideas of the dominant. Dale too is conscious of the contemporary trends that produce overrated readings of the works of scholars such as Polanyi. For instance, Polanyi's much celebrated work The Great Transformation is re-read by Dale against the backdrop of the contemporary, global quest for social democracy and the alarming fluctuations in the market structure.

Interestingly, the romantic leftist character of The Great Transformation is discussed in a readable fashion. Polanyi's approach to the leftist question is important in an intellectual world that is created through new ideas of open source, commons and so on. In other words, leftist and the new social movement-based blogosphere have gained pace across the cyber world. …

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